Horse Racing

A Sure Bet: Read Between the Lines

June 8, 2010

Take the time to analyze your racing program, and you’ll add an advantage to your betting.

You just might pick the winner if you take the time to analyze your racing program before placing your bet.

By C. Reid McLellan

We have been discussing how to take advantage of the limited free time we might have to handicap a race card.  When we do our one- or two-minute handicapping, we use information that is readily apparent to everyone who buys a program or racing form.  Since about only 20 percent of the people attending the races buys a program, those who buy programs have a potential advantage.  You can get an additional advantage over that 20 percent as well, if you take the time to read between the lines.

Time Since Last Race/Win

The first column of information in a horse’s past performance record is the date of each race.  Note the date of each horse’s most recent start, and, in non-maiden races, the date of each horse’s most recent win.  If a horse has not raced in 90 days or more, that is a horse that can most often be eliminated from wagering consideration.  However, if your program includes enough races so that you can see how this runner performed after similar layoffs in the past, you might find that this horse won or ran in the top three. If you are getting 10:1 or higher odds on this runner, then note how this horse raced after similar layoffs.

Generally, I like to see at least one published work for each 30 days since a horse’s most recent race, and I like for that work to be in the top 20 percent of the works, such as second out of 10 or the top 10 out of 50.  Your program may also give you each trainer’s win percentage with horses coming off a long layoff.  If the trainer of a horse under consideration is “0 – forever,” it’s not likely that tonight will be the night that the record is broken.

Look for horses that are making their second start after a layoff of 90 days or more.  If a trainer’s horses win more than 20 percent of their second starts off a layoff, take a closer look at that runner, especially if it is going off at 10:1 or higher.

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Time Between Races

Another possible advantage over casual program readers is to consider time between races for each horse that has not been off 30 or more days. A horse may win or run in the top three more often when it gets 17 to 24 days between starts as compared to 10 to 14 days.

Sometimes a horse coming off a three to four week break between races will run a flat race and finish evenly. The trainer enters that same horse right back for a race within seven days of the previous race. That can be a positive trainer angle for a trainer that has a 10 to 15 percent win percentage. A quick turn around might tell us that the trainer suspects the horse did not expend much energy in its previous race and the trainer expects that horse to run big.

Most racehorses benefit from a break of 30 days or more if they have raced at least six or seven times without having such a break. Owners and trainers tend to race horses regularly, such as every two to three weeks, until they quit winning.  Eventually, a horse’s body needs time to repair and replenish its energy stores. This can sometimes identify a favorite that is a candidate for an upset. You can take advantage of that tendency by identifying and betting on a fresher horse.

A 30-day break is not the same as a layoff, as the racehorse stays at the racetrack.  It may walk, or pony, for a week or two, jog a week and then resume cantering with a timed workout four to 10 days before it runs again.  If this horse ran a disappointing most recent race, meaning it finished out of money in company it usually beat, you might get favorable odds on it when it makes its first start back.

Next time, we will see if we can determine if a horse will have trouble at the starting gate.  Until then, see if reading between the past performance lines doesn’t help you have the time of your life.

As executive director of The Elite Program, C. Reid McLellan organizes and teaches Groom, Owner and Trainer Elite classes around the country. Find out about the next available class here!

As owner and agent of Purple Power Equine Services, Reid helps people buy and sell race and show prospects and provides guidance and assistance with training, breeding and other equine services.